EU vaccine shambles: Brussels issued warning by six member states over Pfizer delays

Coronavirus vaccine: European Union citizens receive their jabs

European governments said the credibility of their COVID-19 vaccination programmes was at risk after US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer announced a temporary slowdown of deliveries of its coronavirus vaccines. Health ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden wrote in a joint letter to the European Commission following the announcement that “this situation is unacceptable”.

According to Euronews political editor Darren McCaffrey, the announcement might see EU leaders having to readjust their vaccination programmes deadlines and targets. 

He said: “There is going to be some short term difficulties for countries.

“They may have to readjust their expectations on precisely how many people they think they can vaccinate in the weeks to come.

“But ultimately it shouldn’t have too much of a knock-on effect in terms of vaccine programmes in different member states.”

He added: “This is, of course, a decision made by Pfizer so it is out of the control, to a degree, of the European Commission.”

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Pfizer initially said deliveries were proceeding on schedule, but then on Friday announced there would be a temporary impact on shipments in late January to early February caused by changes to manufacturing processes to boost output.

BioNTech said on Friday a facility in Puurs, Belgium, will temporarily see a drop in the number of doses delivered in the coming week, as changes to some production processes were needed to scale up capacity.

The companies will inform the European Commission, EU member states and other countries impacted by the changes about the updated delivery schedules, BioNTech said.

“This situation is unacceptable,” the health and social affairs ministers of the six EU states said in a letter to the EU Commission about the Pfizer delays.

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“Not only does it impact the planned vaccination schedules, it also decreases the credibility of the vaccination process,” the ministers from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia said.

“What we want is for Pfizer-BioNTech to restore their deliveries to the agreed schedule,” Lithuanian health minister Arunas Dulkys told Reuters.

Germany, Europe’s largest purchaser of the Pfizer vaccine, called the decision surprising and regrettable, while Canada said it was also affected because its supplies come from the Belgium factory.

Italy’s COVID-19 special commissioner, Domenico Arcuri, said Pfizer would from Monday cut by 29 percent deliveries of vaccine shots to the country. The company had not been able to say for how long it would be curtailing its supplies, said Arcuri.

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The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said Pfizer had reassured her that deliveries planned to the EU in the first quarter would not be delayed.

Pfizer, which is trying to deliver millions of doses at a breakneck pace to curb a pandemic that has already killed over 2 million people worldwide, said its changes would “provide a significant increase in doses in late February and March”.

“We will be back to the original schedule of deliveries to the European Union beginning the week of Jan. 25, with increased delivery beginning the week of Feb. 15,” BioNTech said in a statement.

The changes will help the companies deliver the fully committed quantity of doses in the first quarter and more in the second quarter, the company said.

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